John Doude, airport operations supervisor at the Brownsville-South Padre Island International Airport, tests the airport’s new access control system.

Facility security, especially at airports, can be very costly. However, Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport (BSPIIA) recently received a newly-retrofitted system that ranks as high in access control and security as larger international airports, but at a fraction of the traditional cost.

The airport was experiencing problems with its previous electronic access control vendor – it was unable to eliminate intermittent disruptions – which forced the airport to temporarily revert to its original manual keyed lock system to maintain security. Eventually, the previous access control system was only used to make ID badges.
BSPIIA was looking for an improved working electronic access control system in addition to upgrading overall security to the latest Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) compliances.
Since Brownsville doesn’t have a city aviation department like larger metropolitan areas, it worked with a consulting engineering firm, Ross & Baruzzini (R&B) in St. Louis, Mo., to design and manage a security retrofit.

Saving by Integrating

Instead of a “tear-down and start from scratch” strategy, BSPIIA was able to save tens of thousands of dollars in both labor and materials by having a retrofitted electronic access control system for less money. “Ten years ago it wouldn’t have been possible, but today’s advancements in technology have afforded BSPIIA’s access control software the same functionality as a huge multiple-terminal facility such as Miami International Airport,” said Theresa Smith, senior project manager, R&B.
BSPIIA used Matrix Systems’ Frontier software to integrate existing BSPIIA equipment as well as future ancillary component upgrades as they become available on the market.  
In addition to the software, Matrix Systems provided access control hardware consisting of a server, two networked workstations, one building controller, 10 reader control modules (RCM), and card readers for approximately 12 doors, bag belts and TSA security gates.

Unconventional Worked

The access control retrofit required some unconventional access control set-ups. Unlike larger airports where TSA checkpoints are open 24/7, the infrequency of off-peak flights at BSPIIA often requires closing and locking TSA checkpoints. BSPIIA wanted accountability on which officers closed and opened the gates and at what times, so the rolling overhead security grilles were outfitted with special card readers so that the access control software could record all of those events.  
In addition to retaining existing security video and cabling infrastructure, the airport wanted to integrate its three original circa 1950’s bag belts into the security system. The equipment was perfectly functional, however it was manufactured long before microprocessors were used to control and monitor baggage handling equipment. Furthermore, original schematics on their electro-mechanical controls were no longer available, which made their integration into the new access control software totally customized. “Replacing bag belts is a huge expense and bringing in additional contractors to solve the integration challenges would have raised the access control renovation costs significantly,” said Brown.
Also, much of the cable infrastructure remained in place at a savings to BSPIIA — a majority of the 12-volt and 24-volt DC cabling was reused in the re-design. 

The Result

In addition to saving money and salvaging many existing magnetic door lock/card reader combinations and bag belts, airport security officials now have access to real time recording of a security event. If a door is breached, for example, the access control system automatically activates the security system’s security video and digital video recording (DVR) to record the event in real time, but also saves what was recorded several seconds before the alarm was triggered.
In addition, if an alarm is activated, the new access control software notifies the airport director, airport operations supervisor, as well as other security staffers and administration via cell phone and email.